The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘internet’

For the Benefit of Future Historians

Posted by BigWords on April 29, 2019

The Prelude

Because dates matter so much, and often the specifics are lost to time, it is important to make note of when certain ideas, decisions, actions were originated. This isn’t going to be a horrifically in-depth look at what I am doing – mainly because I am not quite at the point where I can happily lead you to the Brand New Thing with confidence (there is still a painful amount of Javascript and PHP to fix), but I can enlighten anyone who is wondering where certain things have gone.

Students of psychology, interested in how a person gets from point A to point B will likely be parsing this post with interest, as it goes some way to explaining why I’ve done certain things in the order in which I have. There are also going to be some (fairly common among creative people) incidents which I am going to be naming and using herein, so be prepared.

Don’t Press the Big Red Button

Lets start with the night of the 23rd of April. Nothing about that Tuesday is really important in and of itself, and it is only the chain of circumstances which exist outside of the day that makes it of note, but because so much focus is placed on when things happen we have to accept this as The Last Day for On This Day posts over on the Database. The date of note should properly be Wednesday the 24th of April, given when I made the decision to halt all pending posts on the Database blog, but I dislike stating the event took place on Wednesday when all the consideration and planning took place the day before.

It’s only slightly sad to see it go, but being buried among all the other things in the Database wasn’t helping On This Day reach its potential. The problem lay in its placement: without an identity of its own, it was only ever going to be an aspect of a sprawling mass of data. Don’t get too upset, if you happen to like that feature – there’s a twist coming. There’s always a twist. In many ways life is somehow more twisty than novels, as you never now where some ‘wham moment’ is going to come, out of the blue, to change things. You’ve got to keep a look-out for the wham moment… It shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

There Are Two Kinds of Features in the World

There’s an important distinction to be made between the type of things which can only ever be used as part of a greater work, and those which can happily exist in isolation. A great example of this is an EPG – when you want to know what shows are on right now an EPG is a very handy tool to have on your television, but it isn’t something which has much (or any) use if you don’t have a television. How many people, bereft of a television, are going out to purchase a television guide from their local newsagents? Not many, if any, I’ll wager. The EPG is a feature which can only properly be used as part of something greater, in this case (in abstract) network scheduling and (in fixed form) a television.

Within the concept of an EPG there lies a whole bunch of other concepts, unimportant to this train of thought, but I might come back to those. The important thing to take away is that you can’t strip out an EPG and use it, for anything remotely interesting, without the surrounding technology and events which make it useful. It also, crucially, is location-specific. While you may not consider this to be a drawback, if you are using your EPG to find the latest episode of your favorite series, it hampers the use of EPGs globally – nobody in Australia is going to give a moment’s thought to what is currently showing on Norwegian television, and it is unlikely that an American would care what is on French television.

The basic format of an EPG, therefore, can’t be scaled up. There’s no way to deliver a single EPG to the world, and make it useful to all due to the inherent limitations.

We need another example, so how about we take a gander at maps.

Maps used to be considered as giant, unruly things, which needed to be manhandled back into a more compact form when they were used. Folded over and over, they rapidly made users lose patience when attempting to locate that one street, but have, in the modern age, ballooned into big business. Do an internet search for a company, and you will likely find a map in the top right of your screen which displays the location of the company. There are sites such as Google Maps, which attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to locations, and satnavs which guide people as they go about their work and leisure. There are a multitude of apps which have maps of various descriptions and levels of usefulness.

I’m sure someone, somewhere, has come up with an app which shows what the layout of your location looked like in the eighteenth century, telling you what companies used to exist in the buildings you pass every day without a second thought. History drips from each and every map, and that alone makes them an intriguing and possibility-laden tool. There is a lot more which can be done with maps, but we aren’t talking specifically about maps today.

The thing you should be seeing here is that maps are scalable – they transcend their use in other media.

The difference between maps and EPGs is how they can be exploited on a large scale, and this way of seeing things is something you should be looking at in everything you do, and in everything you experience. Can something be sliced out of its location and expanded in isolation, or is it best left as is? There’s usually a clear Yes/No answer to this, and if you can’t immediately see the way in which something can be utilized outside of its current use, then the answer is likely “no.”

A lot of people these days have many different things on their sites and blogs, and while I appreciate the convenience of having these disparate projects gathered together in one place it does mean that people wanting only one of these interests highlighted have to wade through material which isn’t of as much interest to them. By splitting things out, the material of interest can be intensified in its concentration on a specific subject. This isn’t something which will work for everyone, and I accept that some interest are only ever going to be marginal, though in this instance I think I’m on the right track.

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace

When people talk about crowdsourcing, they often use it as a term which exclusively applies to the internet. This is fine, as far as things go, but there is a lot which can be done in day-to-day interactions which go some way to answering the question of this having a real-life equivalent – let me start by offering a small piece of advice:

When surrounded by extremely talented people, it is common sense to make use of the wealth of experience and knowledge that people have.

While I’ll always be hesitant to flat-out ask for help, I have been picking the brains of some of the programmers who I have access to at the moment. It has been rather difficult putting into words some of the effects which I always wanted to achieve, and struggling through some difficult (and highly experimental) notions on my own hasn’t produced the results I’ve been after, which is why talking things through – however imperfectly, and however far from implementation – has been a great way to figure out the edges of the possible. These discussions have revealed hitherto-unsuspected means by which to completely alter the appearance of common utilities for rather dramatic effect.

I still can’t reshape tags and categories into something useful – and I doubt either will improve any time soon – but there is real headway happening.

Before I get any further into the main thrust of crowdsourcing in everyday life, addressing the limitations of tags and categories is important.

Grab a book – any will do, so long as it has chapters, sections, segments, or its contents are otherwise separated somehow. A film guide, cookery book, or any index is perfect for this. I want you to loo through the contents for a moment, and see how things are laid out in a very specific manner. Most film guides (or guides to musical artists, television series, novels, or other media) is usually handled alphabetically, with – in certain instances – a small section at the back of the work ranking these by ratings, or years released, or some other metric.

Now take a look at any blog doing much the same function as one of these guides. Take your time and work out what is different about the two media.

Anyone with a sense of order and logic will note immediately that the online versions of these guides aren’t (usually) presented alphabetically. In order to have an alphabetical list you need some side-scripting in play. However, when using tags or categories to search through a site’s contents the material is presented in a ramshackle manner, with no sense of planning at work. Tags and categories are even worse when the important aspect of a post isn’t the entire post, but merely a small portion of that post. Then the tags and categories are next to useless, returning a great amount of useless (and counter-productive) material.

We can consider categories to be a top-order sorting method, sorting posts into a handful of groups which have a specific area of interest. If you look at blogs which focus on pop-culture, you will likely see a Music category which returns reviews of albums, singles, and possibly live gigs, as well as noting where interviews have been published. You might get posts dissecting promo imagery, noting which posters are for sale, talking about merchandise, and other results. If you are only looking for reviews this can be annoying. Worse, when a review is buried in a post which covers other things a reader might not look all the way through the post, preferring to go elsewhere to read a standalone review.

Tags a second-order sorting method, able to look at specific things – a particular band within the music category, say. Narrowing down the number of results to those which comply only with the specific area of interest required. There is, however, a problem with this method as well – if someone is covering things as they come across information the results will tend to jump around the timeline of the band: making note of the release of their second album, then covering their formation, then looking at a reunion tour, then a review of their first album, before covering the childhood of the lead singer, then noting their break-up. There is (currently) no way to sort tags by the date the material covered occurred, only by the date the piece was published.

What we need, then, is a more refined third-order sorting method, and one which doesn’t rely on the whole post being considered important.

Sections have long seemed the method by which this can be accomplished, though I am skeptical of their backwards-implementation – who has the time (honestly) to go through everything they have written and objectively look at each paragraph, then place code detailing to which larger work it belongs, and where in that work it should be placed?

Lets say, for argument’s sake, that someone has written extensively on television. Their content might be broken down in Categories by the nationality of each series broadcast (ignoring the thorny problem of joint productions), with each series earning its own tag. Maybe, in this scenario, there are some posts which cover rarely seen television shows, or which cover those which are no longer extant (in whole or in part), though by looking at the categories and tags it is difficult to see in which order the events took place.

What would be required is a way to:

a) return only the information pertinent to the subject of lost series or missing episodes.
b) arrange the order into a timeline of when each show was initially broadcast.
c) split out only the information about the show (ignoring commentary and personal updates)
and d) join the information seamlessly so that it appears to be a longer work split for internet publication.

Almost everyone ought, in this day and age, should be familiar with the big names in CMS . Instead of looking at these as cheats (which I often do), I’ve been attempting to ponder the ways in which they operate, and how they could be radically improved for the benefit of readers. Considering the range of subjects which can be covered in a single post – especially from anyone with eclectic tastes – this might be something best handled by an overlaid application, able to be accessed by a blog’s creator while viewing the resultant pages without going into the control panel to make alterations.

By selecting a section of text, one ought to be able to give the highlighted material a meta-tag related it specifically – perhaps “Everything I’ve Written About John Coltrane” – before highlighting other paragraphs and tagging them as being specifically about Tim Buckley, or Iggy Pop, or Linda Ronstadt, or Robert Johnson, or whoever else. Then, because selecting individual paragraphs on a given page to return isn’t going to magically sort them into order, there needs to be a secondary action where the (rough) chronology of the event can be indicated. It would make sense to have the ability to override this, however, to place it within the collected material in a specific place.

Once enough material has been properly curated (at least a few thousand words) in the prescribed manner there should be a place on the dashboard to further fine-tune what is a single work. each paragraph able to be grabbed and moved up or down in placement in the collected document – though not edited, as this would also change the original post. Having placed the “collected highlights” in order, the same software which allows for the tagging and ordering of the text really needs to do something with the results. My initial thought was that there should be a generated page presented to the reader, giving them only what they came looking for and nothing more, but something else occurred to me…

What if the completed document could automatically be pushed to, say, Smashwords?

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace (second attempt)

I seem to have got sidetracked. I’ll attempt to remain on-topic, but don’t hold your breath.

As I was saying, there’s a lot to be said for asking really smart people their opinions on attempting something before you go ahead and do whatever stupid thing you intend to do. It isn’t a way of proceeding that I have ever really thought about, preferring to leap first then check out where I’m likely going to land. It has worked in my favor as much as it has been a hindrance, and the mixed results really should tell you that getting someone to check over your plans is probably a good idea.

Some things have proved utterly impossible even using the full range of tricks, but – in almost every conversation – there have been nuggets of information I’ve been storing away. Small details which, when placed together, are enough to provide me with a rough guide with which to proceed. There are things which, although they might prove difficult to implement, are very tempting… Almost enough to justify doing something crazy with the bones of the Database. I didn’t want to tread over old ground without a notion of how to make it work perfectly, but the On This Day feature – so cramped and neglected within the guide – was the perfect thing to expand and nurture into something greater than itself.

An aborted attempt at dumping a bunch of stuff online brushed up against the possibilities of the feature, though my considerations there hardly covered enough to justify immediately proceeding, and when work interrupted the process I put the thought to one side. Now, with things more or less settled for the moment, it is time to reassess the concept of expanding and refining the concept. This led to the first of two things which would prompt my decision to remove the feature from its current home – the scripting required.

Having adequately covered how my brain processes what should be achievable with current technology, I’ll move onto the suggestion of doing something with a proper platform…

There are days where you find the perfect thing you need for the work you have to do almost just sitting there, ready to be plucked up and used. Then there are days where no matter what you do, or where you look, the perfect tool for the job remains ever out of reach. There’s a few things which, despite rarely being used, are essential to have in your toolkit for the moments where they come in handy.

Here’s another piece of advice for you – never turn down an opportunity to play a game. If someone suggests you might want to turn up to play a board game with a handful of interesting people don’t immediately write it off as something which isn’t for you… Grab these moments, as they often work on the parts of your brain which need a little oiling once in a while. I spent a very enjoyable evening, and, for a small while enjoyed a game of Trivial Pursuit.

On Monday the 22nd this game led into a conversation regarding the way in which certain television series have seemingly been completely ignored by the internet, and how the lack of information perpetuates the lack of awareness – it is a problem that can only be solved by presenting information about these series into public awareness, but tracking down such information is hardly profitable when so little is known about the series. A classic Catch 22 situation. If someone was to systematically present these forgotten series in some way, the audience might (generously) be a small, devoted one. That isn’t what most would want for their work, although generating enough interest to garner a large audience of the curious is quite possible.

Not only is it possible, treating the information surrounding these series with a splash of magic – tantalizing snippets of history focusing on the ingredients which are sure to bring in the curious – might lead to such a resurgence of interest that the near-invisible series from not-too-long-ago might, eventually, be released to the public either on a physical format – a dedicated DVD or Blu-ray, or as a special feature on a computer game – or even on a digital platform somewhere. The starting point for any of these shows to gain traction these days is repeated exposure to their existence, and that requires a special kind of presentation.

By the morning of the 23rd I had a list of around fifty shows which, for various reasons, have never been repeated nor released on DVD. That it is possible for me to do this without a great deal of effort – merely searching for the shows through Google and clicking through two or three links – should tell you something about either the woeful treatment certain series receive, or will merely confirm the depth of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. When I covered the Compact Annual, noting that I had no idea what the show was about, I never suspected that things would lead me to deliberately uncovering more information on shows which had disappeared from public view, though in retrospect my frustration at the lack of adequate information being readily available must have lingered in the recess of my brain.

It was working out the breadth of productions absent from any retailers’ lists which, combined with the interest of people who had heard of some of the shows, that the second thing to push home the notion of repositioning On This Day happened.

With people who knew code to hand, and with suggestions for shows that ought to be better remembered, things began to snowball. On the 23rd I decided to register a domain on which to place day-specific comic-book information, and – the next day – I picked up three more domains on which to detail the history of television series, films, and music. Every time I think I’ve covered enough to justify a launch I’m confronted with another coding challenge, and when I think that the code is (more or less) stable and cohesive enough to launch I pick up more information which needs to be added. I’ve been very conscious of certain failings which exist in similar things, deliberately avoiding the common pitfalls.

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Books – Something – Profit!

Posted by BigWords on April 11, 2016

An obvious question people are likely asking:

How do you know that what you are doing is different to everyone else?

Which is extremely easy – and yet tiresome – to answer. There’s thousands of indie publishers when you take into account the self-published and the niche publishers, but none (so far) have been set up in a way which embraces the promotion of books irrespective of the publisher. The main goal of That Which Will Be is to celebrate the rich diversity of books currently available.

The ways a person can promote a book on their own is going to be limited by a number of factors:

  • A knowledge of blogs/websites which review books.
  • Ability to present ideas in concise and clear text.
  • Ability to parse the subtleties of a forum or chat-room.
  • Access to websites which require paid access.
  • Access to websites which restrict membership.
  • Ability to network outside key areas of interest.

There are a bunch of other things which come into play, especially when you take into account foreign languages, paywalls, regular internet access, health, income and so on. As a catch-all for the big problems, we can see straight-off that some of the problems which restrict the dissemination of information about a title might be self-inflicted (however involuntarily), so by acting as a promoter I can try and get eyes on titles without authors pissing off people who don’t want to be given the hard-sell.

I’ll admit that there’s a lot of work involved in this aspect of things, and it is early days as far as the requirements go. I have small chunks of the overall layout and reach calculated, along with an estimate of how much work it is going to take. It turns out, amazingly, that the numbers aren’t so bad. In fact, it makes more sense to heavily promote my “competition” than it does attempting to maintain an increasingly irrelevant isolationist ideology.

That’s one aspect that I have been providing people with when asked about why they should join in this little adventure. What I haven’t explained is the extent of the advertising. See, there is only so much that a single website or blog can do, and that – in a nutshell – is the notion which is going to shake things up. This isn’t just a business plan, but a philosophy which is for the benefit of writers, readers and small publishers.

But… It isn’t entirely about that.

Whenever there’s a new idea, it needs time to settle in to a form – the standardized  version which has been tested and stressed, which has had the rough edges sanded off for a better user experience. I have a fairly solid grasp on how to roll out the wider application of the concept, and ways to prevent the blatant abuse of same. As I have pointed out – plenty of time to figure things out and examine the repercussions.

There is one thing which has remained constant. Throughout the process of putting writers, designers, programmers, musicians, and other talented people together, there has been a focus on shared benefits. See, it never made sense to my why people disliked the notion of having books adapted into games (Dune, especially, comes in for a degree of criticism in certain circles), or having albums written about characters, or other possibly interesting avenues.

Part of the reason I am offline is this – because the idea will draw out the freakshow crowd who are going to attack everything, and because I don’t want to draw the same freakshows to any of the places I hang out. There is enough to deal with at the moment without having to sort through all the additional crap which can be so easily avoided simply by refusing to make myself a target.

And there’s an addendum to the notion of everyone grouping together. See, I’m drip-feeding you the information for a reason… Should I go all-out and fill in details, the folks who see change – any change – as a threat, and who go out of their way to maintain a status quo… Those people are gonna go batshit. The implications have probably already hit them. As these words sink in, the realization of what I am promoting is likely forming in the brains of everyone else.

The sliding scale.
I want you to consider it.

How many indie titles are out there? Each blog and website deep into promoting works which profit them. Think about the individual push each title gets, and imagine if – even for a moment – the collective might of the self-publishing community working together on a single title… Everyone throwing their weight behind a title in the knowledge that their turn will come and the internet will fill with ads for their novels.

I told you my ideas were scary.

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The Thing I Can’t Talk About

Posted by BigWords on April 6, 2016

Towards the end of the month, in a shade over two weeks from now, there’s going to be an announcement which goes a little towards explaining exactly why I have trekked halfway across the UK to get internet access, but right now, sitting the wrong side of the official kick-off, I can’t go into any details on what is going on. The plan, as it was, began with a request to jump in with an established group doing… well, that part is hugely complex.

The skinny on why I went in a different direction, and joined with the folks I am currently producing words for, is that the other options all required things I didn’t have easy access to. Or any access to. The option of doing what I wanted, rather than conforming to other requirements, was too strong an enticement, and – the important part – I was getting to bring a lot of my work to the table. I have a lot of material which has never been seen in any way, ranging as far back as scripts from the 90s. There’s plenty to play with.

There’s many things which I am changing in the process of making material which can sell easily – some essays are being repurposed into fiction, a television proposal for a sitcom is being heavily altered, and I’m having to get used to the idea that the lack of equipment can be as much of a push towards solutions as it is a pain in the ass. It won’t stop me complaining abut ancient software and terrible hardware, but if all goes well I will be able to upgrade when the money starts coming in again.

The only way that the Thing I Can’t Talk About is having any effect on my day-to-day life is the time everything is taking. I had planned out a lot more I wanted to do before things got close to the announcement, but there’s a hundred and one things which need immediate attention (and I am on point all the time, apparently). I haven’t done this much design work or editing in years. I’ve even been doing small amounts of CGI in aid of moving projects forward, which – on a computer over six years old – isn’t the most relaxing activity.

It also means I can’t take on any other work while things are so busy. Which kinda sucks when I’m mostly in this gig for the green. I still haven’t seen anything which is meant to come out in the first wave of material, but it should be fine given the nature of the folks who I’m dealing with. Anything that sucks? Hell, I can take the blame for anything which isn’t polished and shiny – as long as there isn’t any throwing of vegetables and fruit, which I don’t approve of. Throw candy my direction instead.

As soon as I get info, I’ll link it here.

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Writers & Readers On YouTube

Posted by BigWords on April 12, 2012

This is a quick note for self-published and small press authors who have videos up on YouTube – if your video has had a content match, please pass on the information either in the comments section below, or by e-mail (bigwords88writing@gmail.com). I especially want to hear about content mismatches where the decision has gone against you. From book bloggers (or, if you prefer, vloggers), also, I am looking for anyone who has run afoul of the Content ID system.

I’ll be posting about this soon, and I need as much first-hand information as possible.

Oh, and you really should tell me when these types of things are impacting on peoples’ copyright.

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Random Thoughts

Posted by BigWords on April 7, 2012

Both Scalzi and Cat Valente have written, of late, about the trend for female writers to get more abuse online than male writers (for women in general to get more hate mail and death threats, if everything is taken into consideration) – but why is this? I’ll level with you here… I’ve never been able to understand the automatic and extreme comments based solely on gender. It isn’t that I refuse to understand the rampant sexism, nor is it that I am intentionally being obstinate when it comes to sexual politics in the digital era, it is that threatening someone with rape and murder is something which is abhorrent and unjustifiable no matter the means by which the comment is made – in person it would be considered a death threat, on the internet it is considered business as usual.

And people wonder why my fiction is filled with horrible characters doing nasty things?

So my view of humanity may, on the whole, be less optimistic than Thomas Hobbes. Don’t all rush to point out the brief hope spots the acts of individuals have given us, as that is missing the big picture. Individuals can be good, but groups (seen explicitly in riots) are rather moronic. Get a large enough gathering of people in one place (comic conventions being, by and large, the exception to the rule – though even there…) and sooner or later there will be some kind of incident. I’m probably jaded by years of reading about the various acts of unimaginable horror humanity has committed, but the feeling that it is encoded in our genes somewhere refuses to shake off.

The most enlightening part of this whole debate isn’t the fact that women are being openly persecuted by men (with, presumably, very small penises, a mother fixation, and a collection of small shoes in their basement), but the incident which kicked off this exceptional openness – Christopher Priest’s reaction to an awards nomination list.

Seriously?

I mean… Seriously?

Awards are only important for a very brief time. That time is not when the nominees are announced. Nor is it important after the award has been given. Any awards ceremony has a lifespan of importance which spans hours, sometimes much shorter spans of time. On an individual level, that may increase exponentially in relation to achievement, but I really don’t care. I’m not going to rush out to buy a book just because it has been placed on something which roughly equates to a “best of” list, and I don’t tend to get titles which have “winner of” strap lines above the title. Note, please, that I have bought books which display such markings, though they were on my list of books to read regardless of irrelevancies such as awards and prizes. Merely being named a good read isn’t enough to convince me to buy a title, and Christopher Priest – a writer who has many excellent titles under his belt – shouldn’t be worrying too much about the absence of his favorite writers from any nominee list.

The uproar about the reaction to an award list is something which confuses me as much as the gender-based commenting policies of those knuckle-draggers Cat was describing in her blog. Because my view of awards is so low, there are only two I really pay the slightest bit of attention to any more – the Eagle Awards (which always highlights at least one title I should be reading), the Hugo Awards – though I don’t tend to read anything until two to three years after being brought to my attention. The main issue with literary prizes is that there are so damn many of the things that each new award is a dilution of the importance of all the rest, with the result that they are almost as important as the announcement of a new Uwe Boll film.

Maybe less important, as Uwe Boll films afford me the luxury of guilt-free mockery.

Actually, awards may serve the same function for some.

In any event, mark me down as unimpressed and rather bemused. There’s a stack of novels I’ve been diligently working my way through for the better part of a decade, and I am only a fraction of the way through the output of numerous important titles.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the only acceptable thing to say upon winning an award is this: “About bloody time.” The cloying, saccharine-sweet bullshit where people thank their parents, their agent, God, the voices in their head, and the plot-by-post service of their choice, is almost as bad as sending a Native American up to receive the award in a blatantly showboating move. Go check that debacle out on YouTube if you haven’t already seen it…

And because it bears repeating, here’s J. Michael Straczynski talking about women:

…I like really strong females in real life. I enjoy being challenged, one-upped and outsmarted by really clever, strong, independent women. I delight in it. I cherish it.

And another thing: A Song Of Ice And Fire isn’t half as good as people on the interwebs would have you believe…

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Scumbag Of The Week: Jason Peterson

Posted by BigWords on April 2, 2012

Just a quick heads-up for people who should be aware of things going on in the interwebs.

 

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Some More Thoughts On Marketing

Posted by BigWords on January 29, 2011

So it is probably time to give meaning and structure to the contents of the last post, having taunted and tormented you with it long enough. The idea was really quite simple, though I never expected such a large bump in stats. Jeez guys, it isn’t that people need to hear the same shit regurgitated a thousand different ways, but in my brief examination of the whole “make money online” nonsense, I have found a bewildering lack of thought and foresight. Of the handful of books I flipped through in preparation for this little thought-experiment, the same dull, tired and unimaginative information is disseminated time and time again. I’ll save you a bunch of money (and a whole lot of time) by distilling the contents of most of these books, blogs and articles into one easy-to-understand sentence –

Put links up everywhere and hope people will click them.

Um… No. Really, no. This is the equivalent of the kid shouting “Hey mom, lookit me. Lookit what I did. I set my head on fire, mom. Lookit me. I’m gonna be famous on YouTube. Aaargh. My head. Aaaaarghhh.” It has the same aura of desperation and unoriginality which flows from the pores of people who let camera crews follow them around as they go about their day to day business, and just because the ploy worked for Ozzie Osbourne does not hold that people want to see other former stars do the same. It’s the fat guy in the cowboy hat, sweating profusely as he hawks used cars, talking faster in the hopes that the heart attack he had before going on air doesn’t fully hit until his paid minutes are up. If the notion that links alone are the solution to everyone’s money problems, then things are much worse than I thought in online marketing.

This approach is so wrong in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to begin. I find it incredible that people are still writing about the way marketing was done in the late nineties, and that people are still buying into this crap is even more worrying. The only thing accomplished by providing countless links to one single page (for there is always a nexus point people are pushed to in traditional marketing) is to give people the opportunity to purchase an item. It’s a one-shot deal. It’s a quick fuck up a side alley, which both parties will think no more of come the morning. And the kicker? People don’t learn anything from this technique.

Before you start complaining that I’m being too dismissive of putting links into every forum post, blog comment and tweet, I’ll lay out some simple facts for you to ruminate over. A sale – specifically a download – does not guarantee that people will bother to read / listen / watch the download. It’s not the only problem you will face if you’re looking at marketing as an attractive money-making opportunity, but it is the big one – if the people who have purchased from a link once don’t follow through by enjoying the download, what is there to bring them back? The old methods of shouting attractions out to a largely disinterested audience have been replaced by infinitely more complex interactions by salesmen and “audience” (for they are such), people advertising wares must change their behavior also.

The role of marketing is NOT to sell things. Selling things is a by-product of advertising, but it is not the primary reason to advertise. The true role of marketing is to change the perception of those who are being advertised to. The main objective is to build a base of customers who will return again and again to buy more things, and this is the reason links are pointless. I can’t state this enough, because the pervasive attitude of the books on the subject are so far from the mark that they give a false impression of human psychology. We aren’t wired up in a way which looking at meaningless links will affect in any meaningful way.

How often have you heard people say they record television shows so that they can skip the adverts?

We remember things by context and narrative, so by engaging in a discussion with people, marketers stand to have a much better impact. The way that such a discussion can be created – to create a relationship with consumers which might last longer than that one solitary purchase – is not in the realms of brain surgery. I’m talking about some really simple and interesting things here. It doesn’t have to be of the scale nor complexity of a massive ARG, and it really doesn’t have to take a year to plan. A little fun and experimentation can go a very long way, and I’ll go one further than that- if the first link on a Google search is the link to the product, I’m gonna buy it, and then forget to check out the rest of the links.

By providing a little difficulty into the process of getting something, and by making me work for the thing I am looking for, I am forced to read about it further, and (hopefully, if you have done your job right) get more enthusiastic about the process of getting my hands on it. This increases my odds of actually reading / listening / watching the damn thing, so it is in people’s best interest to have the point of sale lower in Google rankings than the material which discusses the product. It’s part of that long-term relationship-building which will lead to interest in future material from the same source. There’s no secret to getting people returning time and time again. Oh wait… I haven’t explained the image yet, have I?

A minor confession here – the pic won’t help you. Much like the rest of the information online about marketing, which panders to instant gratification and completely ignores any long-term strategies for the extended shelf life of the product, it is a phantom. It’s Keyser Sozer. The truth of the central phrase (in clear English) is all about the interaction with whoever is looking at it. It sells itself as a path to something, and that is precisely what this post is all about. I’ve been here before, and I still hold that people aren’t trying hard enough to keep people coming back to them time and time again, because serious and prolonged investment in propagating the image of a product (more than “Hey, click the link dude”) is the most important part of any enterprise. Also, by drip-feeding information and making people follow a trail of crumbs to the product, which is a way to have a conversation with purchasers, the mess of links which are clogging up sites will soon dwindle.

This is about being smart, as much as it is about being visible. This visibility, so lauded by mediocre hands, has made many products anathema to me. I have no idea what Covonia (or however it is spelled) is, but because of the prevalence of the adverts, I now have no interest in ever purchasing it. I hate those adverts. Being very visible can HARM you.

“Hey mom, lookit me. Lookit what I did. I set my head on fire, mom.”

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Is It Really That Big? Damn. Yes, It Is.

Posted by BigWords on December 18, 2009

I’m a moron. There, I said it… I got discouraged after a positively horrible shopping experience, so I turned to the internet. The internet, as everyone knows, never lies or misrepresents things, so you have a much better chance of getting to the truth than if you trust television, newspapers, friends, relatives or shopping catalogues – all of which routinely screw with the truth in ways that a politician would be proud of. The internet is a dear old friend, who advises and consoles, who encourages and assists – and, just to make the universe just a little bit more interesting, sometimes makes things appear larger or smaller than they really are.

There’s a problem with images online – nobody thinks to take photographs of items in context, so pictures of a 19″ television and a 48″ television, side by side, can appear to be the same size. This, if you hadn’t guessed, is where my brain puts one and one together to make five. And before I know what is happening, I’m sitting in front of largest television I’ve ever owned, wondering how the fuck I managed to spend so much money, and…

Aw, hell. Just take a look for yourselves. This is the box it came in:

Jeez. It’s massive. It’s also gonna keep me making repayments for another decade or so, but what the fuck… It’s big, and that is all that matters, right? Chicks might tell ya that size doesn’t matter, but I know different. Now all I have to do is make some space for it.

So, for those of you who like the technical definitions:

32″ / 82cm pixel plus HD-ready 1366 x 768p LCD screen
3 HDMI inputs, USB connection, and DVB-T/C for digital

I have to admit this right now, because I don’t think it’s fair keeping the whole truth back – I didn’t realize how big 32″ was. Seriously, I had no idea the size of this thing until it arrived. Which, in a weird kinda way, made opening the box all the more exciting. I had expected something a bit smaller, but the credit card payment had already gone through, and I don’t want to send it back just because I can’t tell the difference between a medium television and a gigantic one.

Shoot me now…

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NaNoWriMo Word Count Verification Blues

Posted by BigWords on November 25, 2009

If you head over to my NaNo user page you will notice that I have uploaded my novel for word verification already. There is a massive back story to such a simple act as uploading the novel, so I thought I’d treat you to a missive on how things which seem easy can turn out to be a massive nightmare of complications, alterations and attempts at tricking my web ‘n’ walk stick into letting me perform such a relatively straightforward action. I figure that this might come in useful for anyone else having difficulties uploading their material, so I’ll share my method of getting around the problem of constricted web activity.

This is not a rant, before you start up on me… This is merely me venting some frustration. There is a difference.

So… three o’clock in the morning, and I’m thinking that I really ought to make sure I remember to verify, because it would be a fucking disaster if I went through all this and neglected to actually put my novel through the NaNo word counter. Fine, I think, no time like the present to be getting the paperwork out of the way. The bit on the ‘My NaNoWriMo‘ page is easy to find, so there is one hurdle down. I stitch all of the pieces together in OpenOffice and save the completed material as an RTF file. I open the file up in Wordpad and copy the text into the box on the webpage and hit the button to send.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

And the fucking useless web stick dies on me. I hit the refresh button and wait once more. Same thing happens again. My heart is pounding in my chest, the li’l vein on my forehead pounding away, a thousand profanities pouring forth from my lips as I try to work out what the hell is going on. The stick, it turns out, is using too much bandwidth… Or something. It cuts out after about half the material is sent, meaning that I get a white page which has failed to load in Firefox. Fine, I try to get the information down to a manageable level.

This means going through the text and taking out every… single… blank… line. It takes forever, but I finish up, save the document, copy it into the wordbox and try again.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

And guess what? Same shit, same problem. The web stick doesn’t like me this morning, so I have to find a way to get the material down even further. This is where I get creative, and start using Find & Replace to squeeze every single word down. I change every use of “Talos” to “Tal”, “robot” becomes “bot” and “the” is squeezed to “t” in an effort to minimize size. I go through the text, quickly swapping out every word longer than five characters long for something smaller. It ain’t pretty, but at least it’s gonna go through to NaNoWriMo.

But it doesn’t. At this point I open the RTF and save it as a TXT, hoping to shrink the information by way of magic and belief in the digital gods. It’s right about this point that I’m wishing I had some grass in the house so I could chill myself out a little, the nerves and fear of failure pounding at my brain like a demented midget from hell. Again I try uploading the material, fingers crossed for the trickery to work on the damnable stick.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

The familiar white screen pops up on Firefox again. This is the point I really lost my cool, and the thoughts running through my head really, honestly don’t need o be spelled out here. I get myself in enough trouble without threatening the health and safety of whatever moron was in charge of coding the Bytemobile Optimization Client in the toolbar, which turns red at the slightest provocation. With little option, I switch off the web ‘n’ walk screen, run Crap Cleaner, defrag, clear my internet cache and bring the web n’ walk back up again.

By this time the text is all but unreadable anyway, so I figure I may as well add to my chance of success by pruning a few thousand words from the end of the document to get it even further down to a “reasonable” size. I save the file, copy its’ contents, close Notepad (which has taken over from Wordpad in my haste to shrink size) and paste it in the wordbox at NaNo.

Take a stab in the dark here. What do you think happened?

Damnable, fucking useless piece of outdated shit, pretending to be a bloody internet connector…The pile of cigarette stubs next to me has grown by a count of ten in the three hours I have been messing around with the document, and I still had more pruning to do before it accepted the text, but I did it. I got my winners page up on screen. I also have a rasping sore throat, a headache and a temper that would make even Old Nick himself think twice before fucking with me, but I managed to get everything working.

The wordcount (on NaNoWriMo) stands at 135,750.
The wordcount (unbutchered) stands at 196,942.

I haven’t hit my goal of 250,000, but – considering the obstacles the universe likes throwing in my direction – I’m lucky to have gotten this far.

There ya go. The best advert for getting broadband access you’ll ever read.

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The Future Is What You Make It

Posted by BigWords on October 29, 2009

Some of the strange notions that pop into my head can be disregarded as meanderings, but when I happened to mention a super-internet idea to a friend (the concept of which is really hard to explain here, but I’ll try) there were some aspects I had to concede were good. Maybe not to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but to me they seemed a sensible way forward once the kinks could be worked out. It is, of course, gonna play into my NaNo novel, but the idea of creating a customizable and completely interchangeable internet experience needs expounding…

How many social networking platforms are out there? Too many. In the future of my NaNo there will be an identity card style homepage for everyone, where they can use whatever they want to share with the world. Compatibility issues will be a thing of the past, and the entire internet will be one large social networking scene that has multiple sub-categories for individual likes and dislikes. Into comics? There will be a check button to join that category. Into films? Yeah, check button. Into mind-altering substances? You guessed it, another check-button…

Forums, which I kinda have an addiction to joining – and spend all night surfing for great threads to haunt – should be one area which future software can really improve on. I like a lot of forums the way they are, with maybe the exception of really slow ones like the NaNo set-up. A meta-forum, where millions of different forums (yeah, I’m not using fora here, just ’cause) will merge into a single entity would be great for hot discussions. Threads splitting and merging and splitting again as the number of commenters adding their voices increases…

A person would never have to join another forum again. Join one, and you join them all. A geek’s dream come true.

E-mail, which has been getting tweaks and nudges ever since its’ creation, would – I am certain – be replaced by an IM / SMS-type communication between individuals. When processing power has achieved the ability to create real-time VR, which is quite a few years off even yet, we will have avatars speaking for us in voice communication so real that it would appear animals could talk. This is something I really want, even though I know I’ll probably never live to see the concept realized… Damn limited human longevity we currently have to accept.

If bleeding-edge technology lives up to the promises of various experts, we will see a rise in e-commerce that will make even the largest internet companies of the modern world seem like fly-by-night operators. Hundreds of billions of transactions made every minute, with exponential growth thanks to a subservient robot workforce that can load in new software to accomplish even the most complex of tasks. This will, naturally, see the end of shopping centres as a place to buy product, but it might just reestablish the locations as a place to congregate with friends. I’ve never been one to believe that a completely digital existence will ever come to pass.

I’m still undecided on cybernetics as a point I should bring up in my novel, because the issues which arise from medical procedures to augment human bodies is one which has been covered to thoroughly – and so well – elsewhere. William Gibson is the standard SF text for that kind of thing and, along with Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, is in no need of a reheated and half-hearted answer from myself. There may be minor allusions to the procedures available, but the more I think on the things which would need to be addressed the more I worry. It’s not enough to parrot accepted ideas… My story has to go somewhere new.

The one area I will be completely avoiding, due to the terribly complex and ever-shifting debate on, is the file-sharing one. Never have so many intelligent people been involved in an argument with so many half-assed assumptions in the history of the internet. I can’t even begin to explain why some of the utterances made my music chiefs are so stupid, because every time I begin to make a balanced argument for file sharing they decide to change their objections… “We’re losing money,” (no, you really aren’t) “It’s immoral,” (and the music industry is?) “File-sharing is evil,” (and music producers are all saints?)…

Added to the confusion which exists about copyright, and you have an impossible task wrapping a fiction around the subject which is less stupid and unbelievable than the truth.

You will, of course, be able to see whether I have managed to think this concept of a super-internet through thoroughly enough when November rolls around. Ye gads, two and a bit days to go… I’m gonna have to sit down and really think about the opening scenes if I have any hope of sounding at least semi-coherent. Time has flown by so quickly that I haven’t even managed to begin working out where some of the jokes and references I want to use can be dropped in…

I may just pop over to Microsoft to talk with someone about setting the internet to rights after November… I kinda like the idea of putting Facebook out of business.

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